Monday, April 17, 2017

Injured skydiver awarded $760,000 in negligence lawsuit

Makenzie's father, Joe Wethington, made the 200-mile drive to Oklahoma with her and was the first to jump from the plane that morning. The skydivers were making a static-line jump, where a lanyard attached to the plane is connected to the parachute, causing the chute to open automatically.

Since she was a young girl growing up in Texas, Makenzie Wethington had dreamed of one day jumping out of an airplane.

But the day her dream came true in Oklahoma turned into a nightmare. Her parachute malfunctioned, sending her spinning uncontrollably toward the ground.

Wethington, 16 at the time, miraculously survived the 3,500-foot fall on Jan. 25, 2014, in Chickasha.

Now, an Oklahoma City federal judge has awarded Wethington $760,000 in damages. The owner of a closed skydiving business was ordered to pay the judgment.

U.S. District Judge Timothy D. DeGiusti on Wednesday awarded $400,000 for Wethington's past and future physical pain and suffering and $350,000 for her mental pain and suffering. The judge also awarded $10,000 for future medical expenses.

A negligence lawsuit, filed by Wethington's mother, accused the owner of Pegasus Air Sports, Robert Swainson, of failing to properly train Wethington for the jump. The lawsuit also alleged her parachute was “inappropriate” for her skill level, as well as "30 years old" and in poor condition.

Swainson, 70, closed the Chickasha-based skydiving business in December 2014 and has since moved overseas. He contended the lawsuit had no merit and Wethington “injured herself.”

“I have been convinced that the reason for her accident was that she did not follow all of the instruction that she received by myself prior to the jump,” Swainson wrote in a court document in 2015. “I believe that she panicked when things did not go exactly as expected and did nothing to correct it.”

The judge, though, accepted Wethington's allegations that her training was "inadequate and the parachute assigned to her was too small and fast for a person of her young age and relative experience."

“It's like giving a 16-year-old a Porsche,” Wethington's attorney, Robert Haslam, said last month.

Haslam said he'll attempt to collect the judgment by filing another legal action in London.

Read more here:


  1. As an instructor in this sport, the person responsible is the jumper themselves. If a student is not prepared to follow the procedures for the jump, they should not board the aircraft. Period. An instructor can talk about the skydive with a student for hours and hours and hours, go through all procedures over and over and over... If THE STUDENT is not comfortable, they have to speak up.

  2. Spoken like a true skydiver. Using your logic why bother giving any instruction at all? Just hand 'em a book and tell them to read it then climb in the plane and go jump.

    A person new to skydiving (especially a 16 year old) doesn't have the knowledge base to make an educated decision on whether they are ready to jump or not.

    If the instructor doesn't feel a person is ready to jump they should not allow the jump to happen. Not leave it up to the first time jumper (once again, especially a 16 year old).

    And what happened to tandem jumps. And what kind of human being would send a 16 year old on their first jump with a small, high speed chute that is 30 years old and in bad condition?

  3. So much for the freedom that Americans define themselves by. Freedom to sue and thereby take away from everyone else's freedom? How about the freedom to be responsible for your own actions?

  4. It seems to me a tandem jump would have mitigated the issue.

    It does not seem wise to let a 16 year old make the first jump alone. They simply do not have the maturity.

    On the other side of the argument is the mother let her daughter participate knowing full well there is [always] a possibility it might not turn out well.

    Lady, your daughter is still alive. Maybe you should be satisfied with that.

  5. I would love to see who the judgement is against.....
    I bet she was unstable on exit and got line twists.
    Not really anybodys fault but if she wasn't trained to handle it properly then there is negligence.
    I would be surprised if she ever sees a penny.
    I would never jump anywhere but a big DZ.

  6. And Texas must have had a good reason in not allowing 16 year olds to skydive. They did their best to keep his daughter from getting injured or killed, while he drove three hours to ensure she would be.

  7. Getting a civil judgement can be the easy part, collecting the judgement is the hardest part, especially if the owner of Pegasus Air Sports, Robert Swainson, has no assets to forfeit.